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Police groups come out in support of Legislature’s Amendment 4 efforts

The Florida Sheriffs Association accuses Amendment 4 supporters of backing away from their previous statements.
The Buzz has the latest coverage of the 2019 legislative session from the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.
The Buzz has the latest coverage of the 2019 legislative session from the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.
Published Apr. 8, 2019

Two major police associations have come out in strong support of Republican lawmakers’ efforts to implement Amendment 4, which promised the right to vote for more than a million felons.

Last week, the Florida Police Chiefs Association came out in support of Rep. Jamie Grant’s bill, which would prohibit former felons from voting until they’ve paid off all their fines, fees and restitution.

And on Monday, the Florida Sheriffs Association also chimed in, accusing supporters of Amendment 4 from backtracking after the amendment passed in November with 64 percent of the vote.

“Now that they got you to vote for Amendment 4, the advocates are switching their position and claim that Amendment 4 requires restoration of voting rights even with outstanding victim restitution and financial obligations imposed by a judge as part of criminal sentencing,” Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter, president of the association, said in a statement.

“This is wrong, victims’ rights matter and truth in sentencing matters.”

The statements from the two police groups is part of pushback against national attention and outrage as Republicans in the Legislature look to implement Amendment 4, one of the biggest expansions of voting rights in decades.

Democrats, including New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have accused Republicans of creating a “poll tax.”

Grant and other supporters say the comparison is offensive.

But by requiring felons pay back all fines and restitution before being allowed to vote, it would likely prevent tens of thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of people from voting.

Some people would never be able to vote. One woman told lawmakers last month that she owes $59 million in restitution and won’t be able to vote even though she said she’s dutifully paying towards the amount each month.

Requiring restitution be paid back in full has other issues as well. Nobody state or local government tracks restitution, and it could cost millions to create such a system.

Amendment 4 allowed felons to vote once they’ve completed “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.”

When the amendment was being vetted, supporters of Amendment 4 told the Florida Supreme Court that terms of someone’s “sentence” includes fines, fees and restitution — a point that Grant and other Republican lawmakers have made.

Supporters, including the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, say that fines and fees should not be considered part of someone’s sentence.